Why the Bible is ‘So Misunderstood’

And how you can begin to understand it
The Gutenberg Bible (1455) at the Lenox Library.
NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng)

Kurt Eichenwald’s article, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” published in Newsweek in January 2015, got underneath most American evangelical Christians’ skins. I personally was intrigued by the article’s title—I agreed with it! I also subscribe to one or two other observations he makes in his 16-page article. Yet Eichenwald is flat out wrong on several key points that are very disturbing.

“The Bible is not the book many American fundamentalists and political opportunists think it is, or more precisely, what they want it to be. Their lack of knowledge about the Bible is well established. A Pew Research poll in 2010 found that evangelicals ranked only a smidgen higher than atheists in familiarity with the New Testament and Jesus’s teachings,” wrote Mr. Eichenwald (emphasis mine throughout). His reporting is correct here.

It is always shocking to learn from Pew that while the Bible is the world’s bestselling and most widely distributed book, it is little more than a keepsake in most American homes. Many “religious” Americans do not read the Bible.

Eichenwald described my childhood experience with the Bible. I was raised in this world’s largest Christian-professing denomination. I was taught that I was a member of Christ’s one true church. Yet I was pressured to not read the Bible. As to why, I was told that only the priests could understand it. I was sure to go crazy if I tried to.

Shining a Light on the Book

Newsweek’s exploration here of the Bible’s history and meaning is not intended to advance a particular theology or debate the existence of God. Rather, it is designed to shine a light on a book that has been abused by people who claim to revere it but don’t read it, in the process creating misery for others,” continued Eichenwald. This seemed to me to be a logical, straightforward approach to the topic discussed in his title.

While reading this paragraph, I wondered, is it possible a secular, prize-winning author, writing for a left-leaning magazine, could actually support the Bible? Alas, I was too hopeful. After wrestling through the article, I realized Eichenwald worked hard to toss the Bible into a garbage can and seal a lid on it to ensure it never again sees the light of day.

“No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times,” rants Eichenwald. What an audacious, nonfactual, nonhistorical statement! Top biblical scholars were justifiably fired up over Mr. Eichenwald’s lack of understanding and his obvious absence of research on how well the Bible has been preserved and meticulously translated generation after generation after generation.

Is the Bible Reliable?

The Newsweek piece drew immediate fire from Bible scholars, translators and the religious right. “[W]e are not reading ‘a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times,’ ” responded Michael Brown in a 17-page article, “A Response to Newsweek on the Bible” (also printed by Newsweek). Though at times technical, this article cites references and sources to prove the reliability of the English translations of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament in use today.

Focusing on questions raised about the English translations of the New Testament, Brown continued, “As Prof. Daniel Wallace, one of the world’s foremost authorities on ancient New Testament manuscripts, rightly noted, ‘This is rhetorical flair run amok so badly that it gives hyperbole a bad name. A ‘translation of translations of translations’ would mean at a minimum, that we are dealing with a translation that is at least three languages removed from the original. But the first translation is at best a translation of a fourth-generation copy in the original language. Now I’m ignoring completely his last line—‘and on and on, hundreds of times’—a line that is completely devoid of any resemblance to reality. Is it really true that we only have access to third-generation translations from fourth-generation Greek manuscripts? Hardly.”

Essentially, Eichenwald attacks the oldest Hebrew and Greek texts we have today. He would like Newsweek readers to believe that these priceless texts do not represent what was originally written, making them unreliable. Are they? “Actually, they are remarkably well preserved, to the point that we can say that, with the exception of changes in spelling of words (like colour vs. color in English) and the adding of vowels (which are not part of the original Hebrew text), for the most part when we read the Old Testament in Hebrew, we are reading the identical Hebrew texts” asserts Brown. Although the preservation of Greek texts is somewhat different than the Hebrew, the bottom line is the same. The Greek texts we have make Roman and Greek classic literature scholars jealous.

Who Misunderstands the Bible?

If you take the time to read Kurt Eichenwald’s article you will discover that when he states his purpose “to shine a light on a book,” he doesn’t mean that he intends to shine a positive light on the Bible’s importance for our chaotic and violent world. He set out to expose all the errors he believes the book contains.

He rants about the Bible’s many contradictions. He states: “[T]he Bible can’t stop debunking itself.” He discusses the “many, many” scribal insertions that influenced doctrine. Yet all of the textual and translation issues that Eichenwald drags back into the light have been hashed over and resolved for decades. Brown’s article gives ample proof to what I am saying here.

Knowing his article would seriously upset and infuriate Bible readers, Eichenwald then amazingly begs for support of his dark opinions. “None of this is meant to demean the Bible, but all of it is fact. Christians angered by these facts should be angry with the Bible, not the messenger.” What egotistical bravado! Should Kurt Eichenwald be teaching people about the Bible? I don’t think so.

“The Bible is a very human book. It was written, assembled, copied and translated by people. That explains the flaws, the contradictions and the theological disagreements in its pages. Once that is understood, it is possible to find out which parts of the Bible were not in the earliest … manuscripts, which are the bad translations, and what one book says in comparison with another, and then try to discern the message for yourself,” concludes Eichenwald.

He is entitled to express his own opinion about the Bible—which by the way is not new; many people have publicly stated this same opinion of the Bible for decades. But Eichenwald never gets to the real reason why the Bible is so misunderstood.

What Is the Bible?

Basically, the reason people don’t understand the Bible is they think like Kurt Eichenwald. This is not meant to demean anyone. It is simply a statement of fact. Since Adam and Eve’s creation on Earth, people have had big trouble understanding and following the Word of God—even when spoken directly by God.

To understand the Bible, we have to first know: What is the Bible? Our predecessor, the late 20th century religious educator Herbert W. Armstrong, taught millions of people not only how to understand the Bible, but why they should want to understand it. He explained clearly what the Bible is. “The advance news of tomorrow’s world is good news! This news is reported, before it happens, in the Bible. An entire third of all the Bible is devoted to foretelling world events. Why doesn’t the world know about it?” he asked in a November 1983 Plain Truth article, “How to Understand the Bible.”

Mr. Armstrong knew without a shadow of doubt that the Bible is a critically important book for all mankind. It is the only book available on Earth that explains the meaning behind current chaotic and violent world events happening daily. It explains where our world is headed. While there is unthinkable terror coming in the near future, as Herbert Armstrong wrote, there is great good news coming just after that.

“The main course of history, up to now, was written before it occurred. What has happened to Egypt, Italy, Greece, ancient Babylon, Persia, modern Britain, America, Russia was all written 2,000 or more years ago …. What is now going to happen to the leading nations of the world in the next five to 20 years is also written in the same awe-inspiring Book—and is just as certain to happen,” Mr. Armstrong continued, giving more details of the most important knowledge provided by the Bible.

“The Bible contains history, prophecy, wisdom, spiritual knowledge and truth. If you want the most necessary, basic knowledge of all life—the very foundation of right knowledge—where would you go?” Mr. Armstrong challenged his readers. Although Mr. Armstrong died in 1986, that challenge is still as viable today as it was then. Where can you go to find the answers to life’s most important questions? Stores and libraries are chock full of books crammed with materialistic knowledge and the spiritual thoughts of men and women. But, what are the tried, true and tested guides that work? There is only one.

“The Bible is God’s divine revelation of basic needed knowledge that mankind is not capable of otherwise finding out. It is the starting point,” Mr. Armstrong assured us. “No tools or instruments of science can tell you whether you have a soul, whether you are a soul, whether there is life after death, what the purpose is for being alive, where you are going, or the way to a happy, abundant life and universal peace. Our scientists—our world leaders and statesmen—have failed utterly to tell us these answers or to lead us into the universally desired peace and happiness,” stated Mr. Armstrong with raw honesty. “But God Almighty did not hide from human minds the all-important answers.”

God committed His treasure trove of basic knowledge to writing. He accomplished this task through men of His choosing. However, God did not stop there. God protected and preserved His revealed truth especially for the people of our generation (e.g., Daniel 12:4, 8-10, Isaiah 30:8). God assures us of the inerrancy of His Word (e.g., Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Habakkuk 2:3, Psalm 33:4, 89:36, Proverbs 14:5). All this incredible knowledge is waiting for you to uncover—in the Bible. Yet God is not going to force it on you.

Why People Don’t Understand It

“But why do so few understand the Bible? Why do all the different church denominations disagree as to what it says?” asked Mr. Armstrong. “Every scripture is inspired by the Eternal God—not just those few verses or parts of sentences you wish to apply to suit your desires” (ibid). This is the same problem Kurt Eichenwald sees in modern Christians, but addresses them in a demeaning way. Pointing a finger at evangelicals, he states: “They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch.” His statement sadly is a fact. However, in 16 pages Mr. Eichenwald never explains why, or offers a solution to the problem.

“All of the Bible ‘is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,’” continued Mr. Armstrong. The whole Bible is useful for the purpose of reproving and correcting us. Yet how many people today are willing to be corrected even when proven they are wrong? Very few! “That is why it is so hard for so many people to understand the Bible and to agree on just what it says. The Bible is God’s great spiritual mirror. It shows up every flaw in our thinking and reveals every spot on our characters. It pictures us as we really are—as God sees us, not as we like to think we are or to have other men look upon us,” stated Mr. Armstrong. This is a statement we all need to think deeply about.

The number one flaw in human nature is our unwillingness to admit error. Admitting error is impossible without God’s help. God is willing to help anyone who truly desires His help. He offers His help mainly through the Bible. The Bible is a living and powerful book that, as Mr. Armstrong taught, “opens up and lays bare the inner man.” No human being naturally wants to experience that. Yet that is precisely what we need most to be a success spiritually.

“Too often men have applied some different meaning to the scriptures that reproved them. They have passed right over some scriptures that have corrected and rebuked them. Instead they studied diligently to find some other scripture into which they could read a meaning that would justify their course of action,” Mr. Armstrong wrote confidently. This is a fact of man’s history with the Bible. What is the result? The mind-numbing confusion we see in religion today.

“Today we have hundreds of interpretations of the Bible. But you never hear of hundreds of interpretations of a biology textbook. Why? Because biology textbooks do not rebuke and correct men,” stated Mr. Armstrong with incredible insight. Every man, woman and child should see the Bible as the most important textbook in human history and then study it—not try to pick it to pieces.

There is an important spiritual dimension of this issue that we must remember. The carnal, human mind is naturally hostile to God (i.e., Jeremiah 17:9; this is why we see such animosity toward the Bible, of all religious texts). God’s truth can only be revealed to a ready mind, by God’s Spirit. It requires that Spirit to open up a human mind. Ezekiel 36:26 speaks to this effect: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh …”

Mr Armstrong continues: “When the mind becomes Spirit-led—then through this supernatural process of God, spiritual knowledge is revealed and the spiritual mind can begin to understand.”

Are you confused about the Bible, what it means and how it applies to your life? You can clear up the confusion. “First surrender to God and the authority of His Word. Forsake your ways, your thoughts and those of the society in this world. Then do as God says and begin to study the Bible,” Mr. Armstrong explained. You can understand the Bible if you procure one, crack it open and honestly and sincerely begin reading to be corrected, reproved and instructed.